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Potable Water

by Needful Provision, Inc. (NPI)

View Potable Water Drawing

Over the last decade, a daily average of 5,500 children died from drinking polluted, infectious water ------ water that was a “cocktail” of viruses, bacterium, and parasites (mostly resulting from contamination by human and animal feces). A majority of these children were poor, and already weak from a combination of physical hardship and extreme nutrient deficiencies. They usually died quickly, but not without great suffering.

Now the number of deaths are on the increase since poor governments, of many Third World nations, are selling their potable water systems to private companies. These new owners then attempt to sell water to the poor populations who previously received this water at no direct cost to them. In most poor rural areas, only 5 to 10 percent of the residents can ever afford to buy their water. This means that poor women and children are forced to walk great distances to find water and carry it home. Often the water from uncontrolled distant locations is infectious. Thus, more children are dying from diseases. More women are now dying because they are committing suicide due to the added burden of carrying water great distances, and from watching their children die.

Poor rural areas are often fuel deficient, and cooking is accomplished using dried manure (dung), and brush. Many women and children die from the indoor air pollution caused by this practice. There is not sufficient fuel to boil water, and any boiling of water would usually add to the indoor air pollution (IAP) problem, with more than 1.6 million IAP deaths annually. Iodine tablets, or other water purification means, are seldom available, and not easily affordable when available. In far too many cases, poor families are not aware that disease comes from drinking polluted, infectious water. The lack of education becomes a barrier to finding a solution.

The United Nations needs to be proactive in educating the poor, worldwide, on the danger(s) of drinking untreated, infectious water. Moreover, the United Nations must take action to prevent governments from selling water and water rights in any manner that would act to deny potable water to the poor. The Peace Corps, USAID, UNWHO, CARE, NPI, and other organizations working with the poor, must direct their personnel to educate the poor on the dangers of drinking infectious water. Moreover, they must work to help provide sources of potable water.

In support of the above effort(s), NPI’s staff has developed a simple and low-cost technique for converting polluted, infectious water into potable water. To provide such potable water, for a typical family, a shovel and pick are needed to dig a hole-in-the-ground (about the size of a 2-bushel basket), at a point near the water supply. (Select a place with good access to sunlight.) Dig a hole, then smooth the bottom of the hole, and add about an inch of sand as necessary to cover any objects that have sharp edges. Line the hole with black plastic (10 mil if possible), and leave about 10 to 12 inches of the plastic around the outside edge of the hole. Use rocks, gravel, or course dirt to hold this edge to the ground. Fill the hole half-full of polluted water (or salt water). Then float a clean, potable water-tub, with open top, on the water. Use ropes and ground-anchors to secure the tub in a center position while floating on the polluted water (or salt water).

Once the above is completed, place a siphon-type tube (suitable for potable water) so one end is anchored on the bottom of the tub ---and one end extends a few feet beyond the edge of the hole. Now add a clear sheet of plastic over the hole, and allow enough plastic to extend 6 inches beyond the black plastic around the edge of the hole. Place a small, round rock in the center just over the above-described tub, so that the top plastic sags to within 4 to 6 inches of the tub. Now seal the edges of the top and bottom plastic using a layer of dirt at least 6 to 8 inches deep. Cut a circle of white cloth, or similar material, a few inches larger than the collection tub, and then place this over the tub, on top of the plastic, and under the rock (this covering should act to shade water in the tub).

By means of solar water distillation, pure water vapor collects on the underside of the clear plastic where it re-condenses and forms water droplets. The water droplets slide down the plastic, and fall off into the collection tub just below the rock. The siphon tube is then used daily to drain-off the daily ration (1 gal. per person day) of potable water. Hole sizes may be adjusted to meet the water demands of a particular family, as well as adjusting for changes in climatic conditions. If the same water distillation hole is to be used on a regular basis, then a tube and funnel system should be included to add more source water daily, without the need to move dirt or the plastic cover.

NPI’s staff members have used the above potable water system with great success, and it is quick and inexpensive for most areas of the world. Pure, potable water was the result of all our prior uses. However, we do know that there are 2 or 3 chemicals that may evaporate at about the same temperature as water. If such chemicals were present in the source water, then potable water may not always result. For this reason, NPI makes no guarantees of potable water for use of the subject system under all conditions. Users are responsible for the resulting quality of water produced. (Whenever possible, water tests should be used to determine actual purity.)

NPI’s means of obtaining potable water is a modification, and innovative expansion, of the so-called Jackson-Bavel solar still (a method used to obtain water in a survival situation). A related commercial product is the Aquamate Solar Still as shown on the manufacturers website: The Aquamate was designed for use during survival situations while at sea. (NPI invites you to tell us your experiences in obtaining potable water for poor rural villagers.)


At the village level, most water pollution (contamination) is caused
by the improper disposal of human waste. The construction of properly
designed composting toilets is the best solution to this problem. For
our suggested design, please see U.S. Patent No. 4,608,175 by David
A. Nuttle, NPI's founder and President. You may find the patent details
on the U.S. Patent Office website under the patent number given. If you
wish to find a commercial source of composting toilets, the suggested
source is Real Goods (website:

by David A. Nuttle

There are several populated arid regions, worldwide, where rainfall is very limited and only occurs a few days each year. Well water, or other sources of water, are often in short supply so water conservation and harvesting of rainwater are both essential for survival. As a result of working in these types of areas, David A. Nuttle developed an improved means of rainwater harvesting as described below, and as shown in several drawings that follow hereafter.

PVC-type materials (safe for drinking water storage) are used to create a large basin to collect rainwater and channel this water to underground cisterns dug into the earth and lined with the same PVC-type material. Two or more cisterns may be placed in the same general area, with each being somewhat lower in elevation than the next. By connecting the cisterns with pipe in a manner that allows water to flow to the next cistern when the first is filled with water. In very low rainfall areas, the collection basin needs to be about 20,000 sq. ft. to fill two cisterns (500 gal. each). But each rainwater harvesting system is designed to meet local conditions and local needs, so sizes of any actual system will vary accordingly.

If PVC-type materials are not available for an affordable price, the only option is to find substitute materials to facilitate water collection and cistern storage. If cement is locally available and affordable, this may be a reasonable option for constructing a good rainwater collection system. Plastic may or may not be an option. If the plastic does not have a good UV-inhibitor, it will rapidly deteriorate when exposed to sunlight. In some cases, the UV-inhibitor used may gradually contaminate the water collected. Thus, the plastic used must be FDA approved for drinking water applications. When no other options are available, local populations will be creative in using locally available materials for use in constructing rainwater-harvesting systems. On a temporary basis, mats woven from local organic fibers --or tanned animal hides-- may be used in place of PVC-type materials. If substitute materials are used, great care must be taken not to contaminate water collected by the rainwater harvesting system.

In the event that collected water is somehow contaminated, boil for 20-minutes before drinking, or use a water purification technique such as adding iodine tablets (usually 1 tablet per quart of drinking water). If collected water contains salt, use a solar water still to provide potable water by means of evaporative recondensation.


N.B. For urban areas, where digging is not feasible, an old fish tank can be used
to replace the hole and the hole liner. Otherwise, the solar still is as indicated in
the above drawings. (Be sure to keep the tank in full sunlight, with the top sealed.)

"Improvised Drill-Rig"

Many remote villages may drill their own water wells with an improvised drill-rig.
The primary item of equipment is a 4-inch post hole auger, purchased in a local
hardware store (or fabricated). A rock-bit and bail-bucket will be needed as shown
in the drawings that follow. Three large poles are needed to form a tripod over the
proposed well site. A support and pulley are added for the drill-rope. The rope to
used should have a snap fixed on one end, and be not less than 120 ft. in length.
Attachment rings will need to be welded to the auger, bit, and bucket so the rope
can be attached using the snap. Drilling is accomplished by twisting and filling
the auger, and removing it as needed to empty the soil collected. As the hole is
increased in depth, lengths of pipe are added using pipe-collars so the auger will
remain in contact with the soil. If rock is hit, the auger is removed and the bit is
added to chip through the rock using a pull and drop technique. To remove sandy
or muddy water, the bail bucket is attached and used. The flap at the bottom of
the bail allows sandy or muddy water to enter the bail. As the bail is lifted, this
flap closes and seals to hold the contents. Using a combination of the above said
techniques, wells may be drilled to a depth of over 100 ft. (30 meters) unless a
thick layer of hard rock is encountered. When rock prevents drilling an adequate
water well, a new well site needs to be selected. Once you have completed the
drilling, a well-casing (a 4 inch PVC pipe) should be added to a depth of not less
than 10 ft. (3 meters). The well-casing helps protect the well, and prevents most
pollution from run-off water on the ground.

N.B. The extension pipes, usually about 1 (one) meter in length, must be treaded
on each end to facilitate attachment using pipe collars ---- and the diameter must
match the pipe on the post hole auger.

©COPYRIGHT 1995-2004 by Needful Provision, Inc.